Once again Andy Murray faced a difficult draw for his opening match at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna which has a strong field for an ATP 500 tournament with many players chasing points not just in ranking terms, but in the Race for Turin.
“My movement has been getting a little better with each match. A lot of my movement is about anticipation and when you’re not playing many matches – like I haven’t been in recent years – you don’t read the play quite as well. Now I’m starting to see the ball a little earlier and starting to react a little quicker, which means I will start to chase more balls down.” Andy Murray
The former world number one has himself slipped down the rankings and now slots in at 156, an improvement of 16 places on last week as he continues his quest to return to the form he possessed prior to his hip surgery in 2018.
And he certainly showed that he is on the right track with a solid performance against the fifth seed, to defeat Hubert Hurkacz from Poland 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3, a Wimbledon semi-finalist who, this season, had already scored two victories over the Brit at the Cincinnati Masters and Metz.
A win over a top twenty player has been on the cards and in some way it wasn’t surprising to see Murray finally converting the points that matter having come so close on several occasions over recent months against top players.
This was one of the biggest wins in recent years – his first over a top ten player since August last year and just his second since 2017 when he topped the rankings.
Against Hurkacz, the world number 10, Murray attacked his forehand and took every opportunity to go forward and control the net play, especially on those crucial points.
Having won the first set, Murray failed to convert a match-point in the second set tie-break as Hurkacz struck back to level the match on the 14th point.
In the past Murray would have struggled to regain his momentum but on this occasion, he recovered despite going behind early in the decider, to clinch a morale boosting win and end his run of 20 consecutive losses to top 20 players.
“I was under pressure in different stages of the match and I handled that slightly better again this week,” Murray said. “I need to be consistent with my mentality match in, match out, to really try and build that consistency in my results. Tonight was a good start. I’ll try and keep pushing forward from there.”
He next faces the 18-year-old Spanish prodigy, Carlos Alcaraz who defeated Dan Evans in his opening match 6-4 6-3 and he can expect another tough battle as the youngster took him to three sets in the second round of the Indian Wells Masters before capitulating to the Brit.
Reflecting on his win against Hurkacz, Murray a twice former Vienna champion, added: “It was a good match that could have gone either way.
“I was disappointed to drop serve in the opening game of the third, but thankfully I was able to get the break back in the next game and from there I probably deserved to get over the line. It was a good win in tough circumstances.
“My movement has been getting a little better with each match. A lot of my movement is about anticipation and when you’re not playing many matches – like I haven’t been in recent years – you don’t read the play quite as well. Now I’m starting to see the ball a little earlier and starting to react a little quicker, which means I will start to chase more balls down.”
For Hurkacz the loss is a big blow to his hopes of making the ATP Finals next month. The Pole currently holds the final qualifying spot but could be overtaken by Jannik Sinner, last week’s European Cup champion and even Cameron Norrie, the Indian Wells champion, both who are in action in Vienna.
Already through to Turin is Italy’s Matteo Berrettini who clinched his place by defeating Australia’s Alexei Popyryn 7-6(3) 6-3 to face Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, a 7-5 4-6 6-3 winner over Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.
“My words aren’t going to describe the happiness I feel in my heart,” said Berrettini. “2020 was a tough year for me on and off the court. Here I am about to play my second ATP Finals and I can’t believe it. I always have to remember where I started. I didn’t dream about this, because it was so big, but now it’s happening. I want to do my best.”
But it wasn’t all disappointment for Australia as Alex De Minaur ousted South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, a qualifier, 6-3 7-6(3) and he now awaits the winner of the Filip Krajinovic vs the second seeded Alexander Zverev match.